Robin Cook

(1946—2005) politician

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(b. Bellshill, Lanarkshire, 28 Feb. 1946; d. Inverness, 6 Aug. 2005)

British; Foreign Secretary 1997–2001; Leader of the House of Commons 2001–2003 Cook was one of the formidable group of Scots in the 1997 Labour government. He was educated at schools in Aberdeen and Edinburgh and graduated from Edinburgh University in English. He then worked for a time as an adult education tutor and organizer and served as a local councillor in the early 1970s. Elected MP for Edinburgh Central in 1974, he held the seat until 1983 and then sat for the Livingston seat in Scotland until his death. Cook was always on the left of the party and saw the mood of the party move sharply left in the early 1980s and then to the right in the 1990s. But he was always his own man and his interest in constitutional change and electoral reform made him distinctive. His appeal across the party was seen in the high ranking he regularly achieved in the annual election to the Shadow Cabinet by Labour MPs and he was a shadow Cabinet member between 1983 and 1997. In the long years of Opposition he held various portfolios including Health and Social Security, Europe, Trade and Industry and Foreign Affairs. Although not personally close to the Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair he emerged as one of a handful of influential figures in the new Labour government. As Foreign Secretary in the new Labour government he promised to seek greater cooperation with European Union member states and to follow a more ethical foreign policy. Applying an ethical approach in practice soon became difficult, for he was unable to stop the sale, agreed by the previous Conservative government, of Hawk jets to Indonesia amid concerns that the fighters could be used for internal suppression within Indonesia. He actively supported British military involvement in bringing stability to Sierra Leone in 1998 and the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999. His standing was weakened by a very public divorce following an affair with his secretary, whom he then married. In 2001 he became Leader of the Commons, an effective demotion, and he quickly started to modernize the working practices of the Commons. In 2003 he resigned from the government over the proposed invasion of Iraq, arguing that he could not support a war ‘without international agreement or domestic support’. He remained a trenchant critic of government foreign policy from the back benches until his untimely death two years later. According to some observers, Cook was, on his day, the best debater in the House of Commons, combining serious argument with devastating wit. He was also a good parliamentary organizer and handled leadership campaigns for Neil Kinnock in 1988 and John Smith in 1992.

Subjects: Politics.

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